Guilt By Association?

by James Kirchick | July 30, 2008

Both Matthew Yglesias and Eric Alterman claim that I've misrepresnted their views vis a vis J Street, the "pro-Israel, pro-peace," lobby, in this post. In particular they take issue with this paragraph:

The attempt by people like Ben-Ami, Alterman, Yglesias, Klein et.al. to portray their advocacy of unconditional Israeli negotiations with Iran and Hamas, unconditional Israeli territorial concessions, the Palestinian "right of return," (among other extreme positions) as having any truck within the mainstream of Jewish, American or Israeli opinion, while also having the gall to allege that anyone remotely to their right is an extremist, is something that psychologists call "projection.

I ought to have been more precise with the first policy prescription, "Israeli negotiations with Iran." To my knowledge, J Street, as an organization, has not advocated such negotiations, though it does support high-level American-Iranian negotiations without preconditions and falsely claims that a non-binding House resolution strengthening sanctions on Iran is actually a declaration of war. J Street's fervent support of Israeli negotiations with Hamas -- an Iranian proxy group -- is a distinction without much difference.

But the larger question here -- the thing that seems to vex Yglesias and Alterman -- is one of ideological association. Saying that I'm imputing views to him which he doesn't hold, Alterman says I am "simply making that up." But if Alterman and Yglesias now wish to disown large parts of J Street's agenda (i.e., its support for the Arab Peace Initiative) then perhaps they should exercise more discretion in the groups they join and vocally support. Joining an organization like J Street is not like being a member of the Democratic or Republican parties; J Street is a small, single-issue organization with a very specific policy agenda. Alterman is on the group's "advisory council" (as were Klein and Yglesias, according to an initial list I obtained, until their names were removed before the organization went public) and so it's perfectly fair for a reasonable person to conclude that he agrees with the policies advocated by the organization. If he wishes to disassociate himself from J Street's fundamental views he ought to do so explicitly, rather than throwing a tantrum when people assume that he agrees with the views of an organization to which serves as an advisor.

There is something else that needs to be said, as well. It's a bit rich that these notoriously sloppy bloggers are suddenly leaping into action to defend fastidiousness in blogging. Take one recent example, which conveniently implicates both Yglesias and Alterman: Yglesias claimed on his blog that Commentary's Noah Pollak accused Samantha Power of "Jew hatred." This, not to put too fine a point on it, was a lie that has no basis in anything Pollak has written or said. Pollak challenged Yglesias to substantiate his charge, and Julian Sanchez, one of Yglesias' friends, even called him out on the smear. Characteristically, Yglesias hustled along, never to retract his slander. Eric Alterman provided the proverbial icing on the cake by repeating it in The Nation. Here's an example of "progressive" Jews so sensitive to false accusations of anti-Semitism practicing the same tactic they imagine their adversaries use on them. 

And pardon me if I don't take Eric Alterman's faux-outrage about being unfairly maligned all that seriously. This is the man, after all, who finds it funny to crack fatalistic jokes about Andrew Sullivan's HIV status.

--James Kirchick

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-plank/guilt-association